Sunday Play Spot Series Energizes an Underused Stretch of Lincoln Avenue

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The scene on Lincoln Avenue last Sunday. Photo: Lakeview Chamber of Commerce

Over the past few years, the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, which administers SSA #227, has helped create car-free public spaces as a strategy to boost retail sales and build community. For example, they sponsored the conversion of parking lane space to People Spot seating areas on the Lincoln Avenue and Southport business strips, which have become popular places for shoppers and residents to relax and mingle.

Now they’re expanding on this success with the Sunday Play Spot program, a series of pop-up plaza events every weekend in September from noon to 4 p.m. on the 3300 block of North Lincoln. The block, located between School Street and Roscoe Avenue, next to the Paulina Brown Line stop, is completely pedestrianized to make room for a temporary art installation, active games, performances, and other fun activities for people of all ages. Program director Lee Crandell says the series was inspired by the Active Transportation Alliance’s Open Streets ciclovia and PlayStreets youth recreation initiative.

The SSA is spending $10,000 on the Play Spot program, a relative bargain for four free events that could potentially serve thousands of residents, and draw attention to a somewhat overlooked retail district, according to executive director Heather Way Kitzes. The series is also supported by 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar, Centrum Partners, and dozens of other local businesses and institutions.

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The pop-up lawn. Photo: Lakeview Chamber of Commerce

While the west side of the block is fully populated with businesses, the east side currently has a number of vacancies, although some new tenants are coming in the next ten months, Way said. Centrum is also building a parking-lite residential building next to the ‘L’ station, which should increase the area’s vibrancy. “Right now, the block is underutilized, so it’s nice to get people out and activate the street by creating a nice pedestrian environment,” she said.

Hundreds of people showed up to play on the car-free street during last Sunday’s kickoff, Way said. The centerpiece of each event is a 50-foot inflatable art piece titled “Orange You Glad to See Me?” by Latent Design. It vaguely resembles a massive goldfish with a clear head. “You can walk inside and have this orange, monochromatic experience, she said.

The local YMCA led Zumba classes, the Little Gym hosted kids’ gymnastics activities, and there was a bags tournament. On the Route Bicycles and Heritage Littles, which specializes in balance bikes for young children, had cycles available for test rides. Pet activities included a Twister game for dogs, and a paw-printing activity that allowed pooches and their owners to create a dog-centric Chicago flag. For those who wanted to simply relax, there were tables and chairs, plus an Astroturf lawn, perfect for picnicking.

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View from inside “Orange You Glad to See Me.” Photo: Lakeview Chamber of Commerce

Most of these activities will be back each Sunday, and there will be special events each week. This Sunday, Stage 773 will show attendees how to create their own puppets, and Little Miss Ann will perform music for kids. On the 21st, the Honeycomb Project will host a birthday card and gift making session – these items will be given to local seniors on their birthdays. The last Sunday features performances by kids from the afterschool circus arts program CircEsteem and a parade with characters from the hit children’s movie “Frozen.”

Way says the chamber’s investment in car-free recreation is already paying off. “We’re providing an opportunity for people to see the neighborhood in a new way and check out some of the businesses along Lincoln,” she said.

On Sunday, a woman told Way that she was driving when she saw the street closure, so she decided to go home, grab her bicycle, and do her errands on two wheels instead of four. “I thought that was perfect,” Way said. “Put your car away and bike around instead. That’s exactly what we want.”

  • SMHoffa

    This whole stretch of Lincoln is evidence that installing a bike lane has no direct effect on businesses.

  • Jeff

    That stretch of Lincoln has no bike lane, only “sharrows” (painted bike symbols in the car lane)

  • SMHoffa

    From Diversey to Fullerton is a dedicated bike lane and there are many abandoned store fronts. A very walkable and bikeable street with no retail.

  • Pat

    You’re right. But installing a *protected* bike lane can positively affect business.

    The bike lanes that exist further south are neither protected nor buffered. I believe the stretch in this article is just shared-lane marked.

  • Pat

    There are plenty of streets with no bike lanes and plenty of parking that also have many vacant storefronts.

    Also, I doubt much of any property in LP is “abandoned”.

  • SMHoffa

    True but the point that many folks on here make is that if you build a bike lane, people will flock to your stores no matter what.

  • Pat

    Again, you are confusing it with a *protected* bike lane. Those studies are a way to show business that they won’t suffer when some parking is removed and a lane is installed. Obviously, a bike lane is not cure all, but rather a part of an integrated transit plan for a business district.

    For the vast majority, the top benefit of bike lanes is safer conditions.

  • duppie

    Picking a single point in time and declaring bikelanes a success or failure on that single datapoint that makes no sense. We should compare it to the time before the bike lane was there. Where there more or fewer empty storefronts then?

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    I don’t believe this street is under used in any sense of the word. Big reason why the street has empty storefronts is the taxes. It’s an attractive area that has been seriously impacted by the loss of the #11 bus, just as Lincoln south of Belmont to Diversey has.

    There is a plan for tearing down and building housing on the SE corner of Lincoln/Roscoe north of where the ARK resale shop used to be.

    The SSA spending $10,000 is a good thing. Just remember it is the businesses who pay for this thru extra taxes from the SSA. ATA can jump on the bandwagon anytime and bask in the glory, but it isn’t out of their pockets that events like this come from.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    What study are you talking about?

  • Pat
  • Jim Angrabright

    Who said it would? Or wouldn’t ?Citation needed.

  • Jim Angrabright

    If taxes were the reason this street is underused then why are other businesses on the same street successful? Ditto streets around the corner? “Taxes” sounds more like the excuse of a failed business owner who isn’t quite the genius at running a business he thought he was.

  • Rob Rion

    That part of Lincoln is more vacant because it is close to Ashland and Belmont. More people end up over there instead of Lincoln. It has always seemed a little more empty for some reason. Perhaps activities like this will help;.

  • LivinglavidaLincoln

    I have lived within a block of this stretch for 5 years and within a few blocks since 2004. Businesses were closing on this street long before the #11 bus was discontinued, but that didn’t help whatsoever. I’ve noticed that a lot of junkier businesses (old pawn shops, outdated gift stores, a smoke shop, for example) have been closing in the last several years – perhaps the community wasn’t interested in their products anymore….. Regardless, I think adding more accommodations for people, like bike lanes, safer pedestrian facilities (I’m looking at you Ashland/Belmont/Lincoln) and encouragement events would help this area flourish. Thank you to the chamber for bringing some energy and community building to this area. I’m hopeful that more businesses will flock to this area so I can spend locally even more than I do now.

  • LivinglavidaLincoln

    there is no bike lane on this stretch….so maybe you just proved the point you were trying to discredit? #researchpaysoff

  • cjlane

    “There is a plan for tearing down and building housing on the SE corner of Lincoln/Roscoe north of where the ARK resale shop used to be.”

    No, the SE corner is going to be new retail/office. The NE corner, next to the Paulina station, is going to be apartments, with ground floor retail (prob CVS/walgreens). Developer for the SE corner, south to the fish market building, at least, owns several retail props on Southport, too. Ark and points north have been *intentionally* vacant for quite a while, really.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    I thought the SE corner was going to be tear down too. Thanks for correcting me.

  • cjlane

    Torn down, but replaced by a two story retail/office building. No apartments (unless the plan changed and I didn’t catch it; always possible).

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Well i knew there was a tear down somewhere in their. Might be no housing because of the odd shaped lot.

  • uhleesuh

    FYI, the Little Miss Ann concert is sponsored by Eye Spy Optical and starts at 3pm this Sunday the 14th, in front of the store.

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